Yoga Teacher Training Week 1: Initial thoughts and learnings

moksana teacher trainingEven though I’m exhausted after my first weekend of yoga immersion at Moksana Yoga Center, I’ve never felt so energized.

As I’ve mentioned before, doing a yoga teacher training program has been a long time coming for me; my blog is called Run Lift Yoga, after all. And even though I’ve been practicing what I’ve known as “yoga” for the better part of a decade – which is really just the physical aspects of the practice and is a very small part of what yoga is – I’ve always felt like a bit of a fraud for calling myself a “yogi” when I’m really just an endurance athlete and personal trainer who borrows poses, or asanas, from yoga to get a good stretch at the end of a training session. I’ve skipped savasana at the end of practice more times than I can count.

What we know of as “yoga” today in the Western world is basically just the physical asanas, which we’ve turned into a fitness program, and bits and pieces of culturally appropriated Hindu and Buddhist words, symbols and practices we associate with yoga but don’t really understand.

Quick history lesson: What we know of as yoga today came from the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, a Sanskrit text written sometime before 400 CE in India by Sage Patanjali. The Yoga Sutras is a collection of aphorisms (called sutras) that offer wisdom and guidelines for living a meaningful and purposeful life – much like other ancient instructive texts inscribed from oral history and interpreted through various cultural lenses throughout history. The Yoga Sutras is divided into four books and contains 196 sutras. Book two, called Sadhana Pada (meaning “practice” or discipline”), contains 55 sutras pertaining to two forms of yoga: Kriya Yoga (closely related to Hinduism’s Karma Yoga), which means selfless actions and service, and Ashtanga Yoga (Eightfold or Eight-limbed Yoga), the yoga that inspired the yoga we know in the Western world today.

Asanas — the series of poses we do in yoga class (asana means “a steady, comfortable seat”, by the way, and yoga means “union”) — is actually just one step on Patanjali’s eight-limbed path to enlightenment. And it’s not even the first step.

In basic terms, the steps can be defined as follows:

  1. Yamas – Rules of moral code, which include ahimsa (non-violence or non-harming), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing), bramacharya (sexual restraint), and aparigraha (non-possessiveness).
  2. Niyamas – Rules of personal behavior, which include saucha (purity and cleanliness), santosha (contentment), tapas (discipline or austerity), svadhyaya (spiritual studies), and Ishvara Pranidhana (constant devotion to God or the Divine).
  3. Asana – Body positions and postures to practice and strengthen so the body can sit still comfortably for meditation (a.k.a yoga as we know it today in its limited scope).
  4. Pranayama – Breathing techniques designed to control prana, or vital life force, which you practice during asana (something yoga teachers encourage us to do during class instead of holding our breath like we tend to do).
  5. Pratyahara – Withdrawal of the senses (what you’re supposed to do during savasana).
  6. Dharana – Concentration; singular focus (deeper savasana/mediation).
  7. Dhyana – Contemplation, reflections and meditation.
  8. Samadhi – Merging with the divine/universe.

So samadhi is the true goal of yoga; not having a fit and flexible body. Of course, yoga teachers in the West must know this as they’ve gone through some form of yoga training where they’ve studied yoga’s origins. So why don’t we approach yoga sequentially from steps one through eight on Patanjali’s eight-limbed path to achieve happiness and enlightenment? Isn’t that what all humans truly want?

Starting with the basics!

As Ida Winter, owner of Moksana Yoga Center and our teacher training instructor so rightly put it, “In our body-obsessed Western world, fitness is just the hook; then we reel them in with the health, wellness and mindfulness benefits of yoga,” all the while inserting aspects of what it means to live a yogic life – like chanting Om, saying Namaste at the end of class, breathing and meditation – into each class. Of course, this means some of these practices, sayings and symbols are used out of context. But if this means even one more person is open to exploring what it means to be a yogi, it’s worth it. I mean, let’s face it: Do you think we’d be experiencing the head-shaking behaviour of some of our world’s “leaders” and the human-caused atrocities around the planet today if all of humanity followed the steps laid out in Patanjali’s eight-limbed path? My guess is probably not.

True yoga is the yoga I need right now, and what the world needs right now. This has everything to do with why I’m taking this program and why the timing could not be better.

Yoga Immersion – Week 1 thoughts

Aside from learning a bit about the origin of yoga during the first weekend of the program, we began to go over our nervous and muscular skeletal systems, warm-up asanas and seated asanas. Classes generally start with the asanas we will be studying that day, followed by theory and discussion then more practice. By the end of the weekend, my body was sore from so much sitting (we’re on the floor in a yoga studio, after all!) and my mind was full but energized by everything I was learning. Ida and all the teachers we’ve had so far have been fantastic – engaging, welcoming, funny, knowledgeable and approachable. The other students are also all wonderful and supportive – I’m really looking forward to getting to know everyone more throughout the program, as I’ll need all the moral support I can get when I go to teach my first class!

Love Moksana’s location in Fan Tan Alley – conveniently near lululemon and Cafe Bliss!

For homework this week I have some reading to do, some yogic techniques to practice (do yourself a favour and look up YouTube videos of nauli, haha), and to design my own Sattvik program, which is essentially a wellness program based on yogic/Ayurvedic philosophy of sattva, meaning the quality of balance, harmony, and lightness. After doing a bit of reading about sattva and based on our discussions in class on Sunday, I feel like the majority of the Gwyneth Paltrow-esque wellness trends of today originated from some form of sattva. Thanks to modern day science and knowing my liver, lungs, skin, kidneys and colon do a fine job of detoxing my body, I won’t’ be doing any cleanses, but I’m certainly going to reevaluate what I eat, say, watch and do to live more in align with this yogic philosophy and what my values are. Perhaps I’ll share what I come up with on the blog next week 🙂

What was your intro to yoga?
Do you do it just for fitness or have you delve deeper into the practice?
Which of the eight steps do you feel you should spend more time practicing?